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A daily record of what I'm thinking about what I'm reading

To read about movies and TV shows I'm watching, visit my other blog: Elliot's Watching

Saturday, March 7, 2015

King of the hill: The surprising range of Stephen King

Easy to under-estimate, even to pigeonhole, Stephen King; not only is he a phenomenally successful writer, he's also a very good writer - the people can't be wrong all of the time. I don't think he ever would make a claim to writing great literature, and he's not ever going to be ranked with Proust or Mann, let alone Roth or Updike, but his writing is always on point, clear, entertaining, and often surprising. His story in current New Yorker, A Death, shows his skill and his range (and also, some of his flaws). He's not just a horror writer (film I saw last night, by complete coincidence, included a court sequence in which the prosecutor brought in as evidence against a kid up on a murder charge that he'd been reading Stephen King!) - and this story shows he has the ability to write a pretty good, period-piece western - you could think you were reading, Larry McMurtry, or maybe Annie Proulx in her Wyoming phase. The story, set in the Dakotas in the 19th century, involves the arrest of an isolate loner on the charge of raping and killing a 10-year-old and stealing the silver dollar she was carrying. King does a terrific job establishing the time, place, and characters with swift economy - the "buckboard" wagon taking the accused, Trudale (?), into town for his arrest, the town lockup, the courtroom, with the a dandy brought in from out of town to serve as both prosecutor and judge (thrift, thrift, Horatio). What's wrong with the story then? I won't give it away but there's a twist at the end that just doesn't feel justified by the structure of the story; King is smart and experienced enough to know that this type of story needs a definite ending and not an open, ambiguous conclusion - but the ending he provides feels imposed upon the story rather than a likely and surprising outcome. Although I must admit he had me - and the sheriff - fooled.

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